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Burston, D. (1999). Archetype and Interpretation. Psychoanal. Rev., 86(1):35-62.

(1999). Psychoanalytic Review, 86(1):35-62

Archetype and Interpretation

Daniel Burston, Ph.D.

Freud, Jung, and Sexual Anguish

The theme of sexual anguish runs repeatedly through Freud's writings. Indeed, Freud thematized this domain of experience with a candor and outspokenness rare in any period, especially noteworthy for Victorian times. At some critical juncture, said Freud, we all suffer because the requirements of culture are at variance with the promptings of our instinctual being. The question is whether or not we become neurotic as a consequence. Neurotics waver inconsequentially between the denial of the instincts and the symbolic gratification of forbidden desire through symptomatology. Those who abandon all constraint, by contrast, may not fall ill, but also do not develop the redeeming traits of character that make human society bearable in the long run. Finally, those who master their instincts by consecrating them to art or science (via sublimation) advance the cause of culture and emerge as stronger, more civilized beings.

Although many features of Freud's theory were novel, the attempt to redeem suffering by giving it an ennobling value and raison d'etre, which is what Freud was trying to do, is the central task of Jewish and Christian theology. His emphatic insistence that transcendence (via sublimation) is attainable only by an elect or minority of humankind also has a religious inflection. Where he deviated from tradition most was in his attempt to foster more openness and honesty about sexual matters. For even in the absence of solutions to the myriad vexations of desire, Victorian sexual morality, conditioned by the sexual double standard, the lack of adequate contraception, of enlightened sex education, and so on, results in a level of ignorance and hypocrisy that is absolutely unnecessary.

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